Connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and the Mediterranean, Turkey's Bosporus is so narrow that large ships pass within hailing distance of waterfront homes. The strait is already the world's most crowded waterway easily three times busier than the Suez Canal and exploitation of oil and gas fields to the east will add even more traffic. At the same time, an increasingly sharp controversy over control of the Bosporus is pitting Turkish authorities against a host of seafaring nations, most notably Russia and Ukraine. Russian ships, which account for nearly a third of all passages, consistently refuse the services of pilots who, under the authority of the Turkish government, are available 24 hours a day to guide vessels through the strait's treacherous currents and tricky turns.
The millions of Turks living in cities and towns on or near the strait have good reason to be worried. Over the years, many serious accidents have occurred. The worst involved a collision between a tanker and a dry cargo vessel in 1994; 29 crew members burned to death in the flaming crude, and all shipping was blocked for five days. Turkey is pushing the United Nations' International Maritime Organization to approve new rules for safety in navigation, including mandatory use of pilots, but political considerations make action difficult. Meanwhile, the big ships continue on their way. Warns one Turkish maritime expert: "Every ten minutes there is risk."